How can you use the acronym BALD to persuade others?
Whether you’re in sales or not, the principles of building trusting relationships and influencing people for the better is something we could all stand to brush up on. Whether you’re shy, bold, or somewhere in between, there’s always a reason to become a better salesperson. So what are the basic tenets of building a great professional relationship?
Andy Paul almost didn't make it out of the sales training class in his first job after college because they told him he wasn't “sales-y” enough, he was too introverted, and he was too analytical. Thirty years later and he's a successful sales leader, speaker, and best-selling author of Zero-Time Selling and AMP Up Your Sales. He's also the host of the Accelerate! Podcast.
I recently interviewed Andy for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed the nuances in sales interviews and the fundamentals of persuasion. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Where do you come down on the classic “Sell me this pen,” question in sales interviews?
Andy Paul: I think it's perfectly legitimate. On one hand, I think, it sort of lacks a little imagination, but to me, what I would use that for is their reaction in terms of what they say first, because if the first thing they’re going to do is pitch the product, then I've got an issue here. If the first thing they say is, “Well, tell me a little bit about how you use your pen,” and lead with a question and then another good question after that, and they dig down and really find what my requirements are for writing by hand these days instead of a computer or phone.
The fact is, I think it's legitimate. I think that people don't understand, when they're interviewing for jobs, everybody looks alike. To the employer, you all look alike. You've all cleansed your resumes, everybody's a success. That's the thing about sales jobs is we know from studies that only about 50% of sales reps make their quota year after year, yet 100% of the resumes that are submitted make the quota. Everybody's got these airbrushed, cleansed resumes. How are employers supposed to be able to tell the difference between people? There are various things you have to do. I think one is testing. What I recommend to my clients is same thing, is that you have some specific skills that you need to have in the person, then test them.
I remember one client, we were hiring a director of sales, and this was going to be somebody that was going to be a little bit of a player coach, because it was a smaller company. The guy was going to have his own territory, the person was going to have their own territory, and the test was they needed to be self-sufficient in terms of putting together their PowerPoint presentations and so on, is we'd set in a conference room with a laptop and a data sheet, and say, “We're going to come back in 15 minutes, we'd just like a little quick presentation about this product.” I'd say when we narrowed down to the final 10 candidates out of many, I mean, we just sort of brought a bunch of people in to talk to, is yeah, fully 80% of them got up and left, insulted, “Why would I do this?”
I had it again with another client where they were hiring… this was a very heavily funded venture-backed company looking for a VP of sales, and I was working with them. Actually, they had fired the previous guy and I was filling in for a few months helping them and helping them recruit this new one. One of the things we want to do is see what their quality to their thought was, how'd they think about expanding and scaling the team and entering new markets and so on? We put a little test as, just a single page, give us your thoughts about what you would do to enter this new market in terms of a market launch strategy from a sales perspective? This was one of the three finalists, and this was a national search. Two of the three candidates refused. Well, if you pay me for consulting, I'll do it.
It’s like, “Dude, that's not what we're asking for.” We just want to see something about you, show us something different. Show us something about how you think and approach problem-solving. Then the choice became pretty simple at that point.
Kruse: I got burned numerous times because clearly the person that showed up and got the job wasn't the one that submitted the test work.
Paul: Yeah, why is sales so special in that regard? I mean, I think if you're a salesperson and you want to get up and leave once I ask you a question—Well, if they ask you, “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses,” get up and leave then, because if that's the only question they can ask you, you don't want to work there.
Kruse: Do you agree that we’re all in sales? Do you view everybody as a salesperson?
Paul: Yeah, I mean, I think that if you look in the past—let's say before we had this technological revolution in the last several decades—you could sort of identify people that were angling for leadership positions, because they were the ones that always seemed to be in sales mode internally. Because what they were trying to do is they were trying to maybe garner a greater percentage of the resources of some project they were working on or whatever. Technology has democratized that to a large extent. The means of influence are more broadly distributed throughout an organization. Layers of management had been removed. Working through others and mastering relationship skills, certainly, I think are more important in more jobs than it was in the past.
I think the flip side to it is that it doesn't mean we're getting better at it. I mean, the means exist, but I think we still suck in general at building those relationships. I think part of it is due to lack of experience and understanding how to influence others. Having more training on how influence works, because influence, I know sometimes people consider it bad, but it's not. I mean, there's positive uses of influence. Within an organization is, I think, teaching those influence skills and how people make decisions and how people process information is really important, but I also think we just have this idea that's come about because of what's happening, I think, in the greater world in general, is that we talk about influencers these days.
A lot of people tend to see influencers in the sense of like a social media influencer or something. The problem there is those people are primarily broadcasters. It's not an interactive thing. It's a point to multipoint dissemination of information, and the interactivity just comes from sort of a passive like or share. I mean, occasionally people comment, but, I mean, there's not much of a dialogue. I think it's resetting the bar for people. I think yeah, Dan's generally right, that people have to do this. Those people that succeed internally within an organization are those who are more effective at building those relationships and being leaders, but we could do much more to train people about how to build these relationships, how to influence others than we're doing today.
Kruse: When people hear ‘influencer,’ they think of an Instagram star. But that's not what we're talking about when it comes to persuasion and leading people for better outcomes.
Paul: I think the thing that wasn't clear enough in Dan's book is that this is a one-to-one task. This is something that I do with another person, is build this relationship and have some influence.
The influence is not just based on the strength of my argument, but it's based on the relationship, it's based upon understanding their needs and what they're trying to achieve, and how I can help them achieve that. We tend to look at this as being such a zero-sum game. It's not. I think that, yeah, people are enabled and empowered to be influencers and basically in sales, but we need to do a better teaching them what that means.
Kruse: Do you lead sales reps the same way you would lead non-sales professionals? Do you think there is something unique about them?
Paul: I mean, I've generally managed organizations as well that have multiple disciplines in it. I think the answer really depends on the corporate culture. I mean, if an organization, a company, sets up sales in the prototypical, stereotypical, macho, always be in closing mode, heavily male-dominated, hey we're going to put sales on a pedestal then yeah, you manage those people differently than you do everybody else. Increasingly, you see companies that understand that sales is just one function on a part of a team effort that's required in order to capture a customer and retain them, and that in that case then, there's less of this sense of entitlement among the salespeople. You manage them somewhat similarly to the other functions, which is… yeah, you just focus on clarity and reducing ambiguity in terms of what it is their responsibilities are and how they work with others.
I think that it depends on the corporate situation, as I said before. I think the other thing about that, too, is a little bit different in sales, is sales, I think more so than… not necessarily all other professions, but modeling the behavior you want your salespeople to exhibit, is really important. It's a problem I see with a lot of companies these days that are hiring non-sales, or people without a sales background into sales management positions, is they can't provide that role model. Selling, not that other professions aren't, but selling, given there's no real academic training for it. There's an increasing number of universities that have some degree programs, but like all degree programs, they're going to have to probably train people out of the things they learn there, as when they come into the real world.
It's an apprenticeship, they learn by watching other people. I think for sales managers, one thing that's really different is they really need to be able to go out, and as I said, model that behavior that you want your salespeople to exhibit in front of customers.
Kruse: There can be a pretty big disconnect from theoretical training and management, and then what actual people are doing in the real world.
Paul: Well, and this is an ongoing issue. I've had several guests on my podcast about this, just even recently, is CEOs routinely are surveyed about sales training and think that it's a waste of time because it's not really addressing the issues that the salespeople are having in the field. To your point, you made earlier about at every company, they are so situational and so unique that it's really hard to generalize. That's one of the real challenges. To that degree, my thought is, really you're much better off if you just train people—to get back to what I spoke to a little bit earlier—you just train people on a basic premise about selling and building relationships. I've sort of reduced it to an acronym that's B-A-L-D. I think if people can master the four elements of ‘going bald,’ as I call it, then that's all they need to know about sales.
Kruse: You mind walking us through your four steps?
Paul: Well, so the B is ‘Be human.’ Be present, be mindful, be focused on the customer. The A is ‘Ask great questions,’ questions that elicit emotions out of the customers. L, ‘Listen without judgment,’ meaning every customer is unique and you have to take those filters off so you hear what they really are saying to you. D is ‘Deliver value,’ on every interaction. If you can just master that, you're so much farther ahead of the game because if people can just do that, that's the key to building good relationships with prospects.
That's going to get you where you want to go. I've really increasingly focused on that because we're in an increasingly noisy and polluted environment in terms of sales advice and sales recommendations and so on. And I think if people just have a beacon of clarity and focus on these four things. If I can focus on these four things, and I know my products that I'm selling, and of course know my customers, then everything else is going to be fine.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.